So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Night Is Drawing Nigh, 2008 Version

Well, it took a couple of days longer than I hoped. But I finally got my fruitcake. It might sound insane for a guy who values physical fitness, exercise, & prudent dietary choices to like...even long for...something as inherently unhealthy as a fruitcake. However, I'm the type of person who looks at the dietary information posted on the back of the package: 'Hm...if this fruitcake is four servings, and each serving is 400 calories, then I can have...' So, I justify my personal snacking habits as long as my total calories per day, less the number of calories I've burned (boiled?) in the workouts, is right around 2,000.
And my snacking goes in cycles, from good snacking to bad snacking. If I can limit myself to the once-monthly bag of gummi bears, things are fine. It's when I start jonesing after those apple pastries I find near the coffee section of convenience stores I find the chubbiness factor begin to rise.
Suzanne & I spent our Christmas holiday in the "traditional" Bowen manner; sleeping in (a challenge in itself, since the d-a-w-g awakens to the alarm on my running watch), taking a long morning walk, reading, drinking coffee, watching classic flicks on the toob or going to the movies (a doubleheader - Lawrence of Arabia and Marley & Me), and...a recent and new tradition...going out for Chinese.
I almost congratulated myself for getting through this year with a minimum of illness & beat-down, but the holiday @$$ kicking bug caught up with me not once, but twice. I ate something I had absolutely no reason to be scarfing out on at a holiday luau. Enough said. The bad news was it meant two (possibly three) days of no training. The good news was I didn't feel like eating too much outside of very simple foods; half a turkey sandwich here, a bowl of soup there, a couple of bagel chips...blah, blah, blah.
Back to work...not too much excitement around here at the end of the year. Probably will spend more effort blowing excess stuff out of my computer...probably something I should do to the one at home, too. It's amazing how much stuff we accumulate; with computers it's not only paper-based, but also digital. Could someone please slow down the madness?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Help Wanted

MB comment: A little something written for my friends in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune (www.nola.com) has a running section in the on-line version of the paper...blogs and all...have to love a city that loves running. Happy Chanukkah and Happy Christmas to you, also. See you guys soon.
Six times a year I receive phone calls from race directors. While they may not know it, the call’s an advertisement that sounds like:
“HELP WANTED – Fearless, anal-retentive, detail-oriented person/s to ensure running course accuracy. Skilled in problem-solving, math calculation, line-drawing, detail elaboration. Bike-handling skills & lack of fear a must. Track, cross-country or road running experience highly recommended. Must own bicycle, CPSC-certified helmet, & RRTC-approved measuring device – no GPS users! Must memorize simple mathematical calculations, exact metric & English course distances. Know capabilities & limitations of GPS/alternative measuring systems. Can communicate USA Track & Field definition of ‘accurate course’ to general public. Skin thickness, selective hearing, & love-of-travel, able to adapt courses at whim of race directors/police necessary. Compensation varies by difficulty of job, prior experience of applicant. Hours: Flexible; highly-dependent on auto traffic. Resume to (850) 867 5309.”

In Florida, there are over 30 of us listed with USA Track & Field (USATF) as course measurers. Some have been measuring courses for decades, others for a handful of years. We do it because we love the sport of running; we understand the need for accurate courses, & in many cases, because very few others will do the job.
When I tell people I am a runner I receive two questions immediately afterward: ‘Have you done a marathon? Have you done Boston?’ To do Boston, you have to qualify on a certified, accurate course. USATF, the national governing body for the sport of running, defines an accurate course as one that is NOT SHORT. It’s important to know the course you run on is not short; you need to know how well your training is progressing. You want to compare your race performance to others in your age group, another town, or around the country…even year-to-year in your town. If you think of a race director like the manager of a Subway shop, you want to make certain the five-dollar foot-long you paid five dollars for is really 12 inches in length. Any smaller would upset you, & you would go some place else to eat lunch. So, the race director wants you to come to their race rather than somewhere else. One good way to ensure this is by having a USATF-certified course.

Just because you get a USATF course measurer to measure your course doesn’t mean it’s certified by USATF. But having a USATF course measurer measure the course will ensure the job is done properly. The measurer does this by use of several tools and a simple protocol.
The first tool is a bicycle with a counter mounted to the front wheel hub, which provides a fixed count for each turn of the front wheel. The earliest model of counter is accurate to within three inches, more accurate than the GPS receivers used by fitness enthusiasts. The measurer does a series of calibration rides to determine the number of counts (turns of the wheel) per miles/kilometers. These rides are performed on a calibration course, measured out using spring tension & steel surveyor’s tape; most measurers have one or more calibration courses in their area.
Once the count (wheel revolutions) per mile/kilometer is determined, the measurer adds a 1/1000 factor to the count to help prevent a course from being shorter than the actual distance. So, a ten-kilometer (6.213172 miles exactly) run, such as the Crescent City Classic, is actually closer to 6.219925712 miles in distance.
The measurer, once on the course, begins to act like a runner. They ride the shortest possible distance from start to finish; riding 12-inch tangents on curved sections of the course. If runners are going to be restricted from part of the road, these are noted. Distance splits are made at multiples of each count per mile/kilometer, marked (temporarily) & noted relative to fixed points. The counts at the finish are also noted. During a second ride of the course, the count from start to split points & finish are noted again.
The total counts between the first & second rides are divided to ensure the difference between the two rides is no more than .08 percent (26 feet, 4 inches for a 10-kilometer race). Once the course rides are complete, the measurer returns to the calibration course to repeat the calibration done before the measurement rides. The calibration rides before & after the measurement are compared, with the smaller count used to measure course length. The smaller count per mile/kilometer is used to compare the shortest course measurement to the desired distance. If the course distance varies from the desired distance, the measurer adds or subtracts distance – if necessary – to make the course distance accurate.
The measurer then draws up the map, showing detailed location of start, turn points, and finish. Each of the distance splits are noted, as well as places where runners are restricted by cones or barriers. This map, the calibration form, the measurement form, & an application for course certification is sent to the USATF state course certifier, along with a check (in FL, it’s $30). The certifier reviews the paperwork, certifies the measurement met USATF protocols (sometimes after asking for more data), then prepares the certificate. The certificate number & map is placed in the USATF course database, where it can be found by the general public. The race director is asked to place the certificate number on all documents related to their event, both before & after the event. Course distances are valid for ten years from the date of certification, after which the course needs to be measured again & submitted to the certifier.
So, racing on accurate certified courses benefits the individual athlete because they can truly compare their performance to other days or other persons. Accurate certified courses benefit the race director because it’s another proof to market to potential customers of their event’s quality. In fact, USATF and Road Runners Club of America championship races are required to be held on certified courses. So, think twice before you take that GPS receiver-wearing runner’s opinion of the course measurement as gospel – look it up on the USATF web site. If it isn’t there, it isn’t accurate.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Give Me The Fruitcake And Nobody Gets Hurt

Rather than not try to make amends for the morning's weather conditions (light rain), which put the kibosh on not only the marathon course measurement but the Sunday kinda-long run, Suzanne and I took a couple of walks during the course of the day. The first one was the more enjoyable endeavor, around the park outside of our house...taking our greyhound on the last circuit. She wears her iPod to listen to techie podcasts, I wear my Speedo Aquabeat to listen to tunes...we chatter when the spirit moves us...which is usually often during these strolls.
The second one, we decided, would be at the mall. We did want to make a brief trip to a couple of our favorite shops, and we did indulge in some of that four-dollar coffee, too. As always, the mall provides lots of commentary material, so we usually don't take any music player with us.
Why do people lumber through shopping malls in an absolutely overloaded state? There is no way, given the fitness level of the typical American consumer, their stamina is going to withstand a three-hour stroll in an overheated, crowded mall...especially when they are carrying fifty pounds of cr*p IN BAGS WHICH WERE NEVER MEANT FOR CARRYING OVER EXTENDED DISTANCES/PERIODS OF TIME. Suzanne mentioned seeing a couple earlier in the week as she was taking care of some business; the woman was carrying ALL of the stuff. When a bag (inevitably) failed to hold up and shopping items fell to the floor, her husband berated her...of course, he was NOT carrying a d*mned thing. As my friend Christian would say, 'what the heck, over...'
I did mention, during our stroll, the fact I was still not completely in the holiday spirit. For me, it is not the Christmas holiday without not having at least one piece of fruitcake. This has been a painful decision in years past; it was two years ago when I broke a molar while eating a slice of fruitcake, starting a very expensive string of dental appointments which has lasted until the middle of last year. Still, I like candied fruit, nuts, raisins, currants, dates, and all the junk that should never pass the lips of a serious athlete...at least one slice during the holidays, just to say I've had it.
Gingerbread, German lebkuchen, other European delectables of the sort; those are the next-best things I've ever had to fruitcake, frankly. And I'm certain a good gingerbread cake or a couple of good gingerbread cookies are less damaging to the diet than their equivalent weight in fruitcake. However, that's what I want, and I'm still on the hunt for it, d*mn it. If it takes me until Christmas Eve, and I find one of those cheesy single-slice packages at the local Circle K, I'm going to have my piece. Then I'll have some peace.
Ah...it was so good to get back into the groove of working out after three days of being a sick doggie. I didn't get the yardage in the pool I hoped for on Saturday, but it was a check in the box...definitely better than the morning's spinning class. I fail to see the merit in playing holiday music as background visualization to a indoor cycling workout...unless you're playing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve, Sarajevo...if it's that piece, I'm going to grind big gears. Still, I can't get up for (young) Michael Jackson singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. I can't see Crowie, Chuckie V, Chrissie, spinning to it, nor would Michael be caught dead with it in his iPod.
But I guess the most important thing is to get something done so you don't add something on. This time of year I guess we do work out in order to eat. I'm going to work out until I find my fruitcake...then I'll stop long enough to eat it...then I'll work out some more. Hm, memo to self...recommend fruitcake-flavor to makers of Clif Bar...
In case I don't post between now and later this week...but I probably will...Happy Chanukah, Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saint Nick Has Strange Timing

A second attempt at measuring the half-marathon/marathon course shot down the tubes. The RD called me 15 minutes before I was scheduled to head out the door and get my calibration rides. "You looked at Weather Channel yet?" I saw the forecast for the day didn't look all that good, with a band of showers preparing to roll through...followed by a healthy drop in the temperature. The rest of the week isn't looking all that good, either. Ironically, Friday morning seems to be the only good day for the week. I've got it off, but I bet good money it's not the best of days to be on any of the roads, especially near the mall. Of course, given this economy that might not be the case.
While Suzanne was taking care of details for her little soiree last night I had the opportunity to get out and shop. Part of the rationale was painfully obvious: I hadn't done a lick of real shopping without her. Well, I needed to get a bite to eat and recover from the morning's spinning class so I could turn around and do my swim workout...and I had just a sliver beyond the four-hour window my body likes between food and workout. Good enough reason to hit the mall, go to the World Market and see what cool stuff was hiding in there...followed by Bed, Bath & Beyond. Not terribly romantic, but practical & helpful...when it comes to my wife, helping her life is as good as I can get.
I've purchased some books on-line, too, but they might not arrive in time for Christmas...how embarrassing would it be to have to say 'happy Christmas, honey...sorry you don't have any gifties...it's all the Postal Service's fault.' In the case of this wanna-be IM guy, it would be just one more justification for me to see legal papers. Never a good thing. I also bought a book for me, so there's more mindless reading during the down days.
Suzanne got me some stuff I really needed this year...which is not all that difficult, because she could gift-wrap a bag of gummi bears and I'd be overjoyed. So far it's a pair of Gap jeans (yay!) and the biography of Michael Phelps I almost bought for myself on Amazon.com. Talk about a massive sigh of relief on both of our parts; Suzanne thought I already had a copy. I don't always jump on the celebrity biography bandwagon, because I hate having a bio on a luminary, then find out more dirt occurs to them later in life. Call it the Lance Armstrong Syndrome, if you like...more grist for the follow-on biographer, I guess. More money for the celebrity, too.
But I have a great deal of admiration for Michael. Why does it seem (rhetorical question follows:) that the great athletes - or many of them - come from sh!tty childhood situations, where their fathers were either absent or a$$holes? Okay, there are world & Olympic champions, great athletes, who had the continual love & support of both of their parents, so it's not a broad brush stroke.
All right. Enough ranting. I need to go for a walk and burn off some of the excess beer I took in at last night's holiday/cancer remission celebration/karaoke-thon...as well as the previous evening's holiday party.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Certain Cure For Wimpiness

All right. I made it to Friday, a day I decided (once I figured I had leave hours to burn before end of year) to take off. The original plan was to take next Friday, the day after Christmas...and the Friday after that, the day after New Years' Day...but since the Pres'dent graciously permitted us to have December 26th off...
I somehow managed to throw a big, honkin' monkey wrench into my holiday season training schedule (which at this time consists of maintaining a schedule!), catching a bug at work. It's not often you can tell the exact moment you catch that infection or cold...but I was sitting in a meeting with a bunch of other training personnel. I tend to gnaw on wooden toothpicks at meetings; it helps me to keep my mouth shut & provides me something with which to stimulate my gums...if not my mind...during the mindless moments. I suddenly felt this tickle, like that when you swallow something you probably shouldn't have. After that, it was all downhill.
By the time I got off work I was draining like a tap, sneezing & miserable. I had to go to the track for the workout, but there was no way I was going to be able to run. Ever have one of those days when you prayed for a massive torrential downpour? That's how I was feeling. I did not want my athletes to see me in the state of misery I was in. I gave them their workout, then drove back home to curl up on the couch with a bowl of soup & some drugs.
The next morning felt no better. In fact, I searched in vain to find the man who spent the entire night beating me with a rubber mallet. If not for the fact my time card had been processed I would have taken a sick day...because I don't have a dead day.
If not for the visit of a friend of mine, the unit chaplain, at 10 o'clock, I would have been miserable for the entire day. However, sometimes the proverb (a merry heart does good, like medicine) does have full effect. My agnosis was temporarily shelved by Ed's (self-described) ministry of presence. Thanks, Ed. You are a true mensch.
After that point in time, the recovery seems to have begun. I'm still a little wobbly on the pins; better today than yesterday...perhaps enough to do a very easy swim (think I'll work on my flip turns, since I found a good instructional clip on viddler.com).
I've added a link this morning to a video I found on viddler. I've seen it also on YouTube, but viddler has better picture quality, in my humble opinion. Once again, I'm not one to harbor a great deal of religious belief, having much to do with recovering from ten years in a fundamentalist (near-cult) church. But two things stand out in this video: The love of father to son, & the will of both father and son to succeed somehow. Ironman? Who Knew?
The video of Dick and Rick Hoyt is filed in my list of favorites & stands as a certain cure for my wimpiness. I'm almost together; give me one more day before you tell me to suck it up & drive on.
See you at the track, on the road, & in the pool. Oh, Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2008

You Have Some "Splaining" To Do

Some numbers are more daunting than others. Take the iron-distance triathlon. Even some of my closest friends have a difficult time wrapping their head around the 140.6-mile (total) distance. After you translate/transform it out to the metric system for the benefit of metric-system-using friends up in Canada, 226 and change (kilometers) sounds even the more insane. To make it sound more round, my metric-speaking friends call it "220."
17 is a more-simple number; that's the number of hours you have to complete the entire event. However, the race organizers make that more complicated by instituting cut-off times for the swim & the bicycle portions. You have to finish the 2.4-miles of open water swimming in 2:20. That means you have to swim 100 yards in a little over three minutes...42 times. I consider myself a poor swimmer, and my distance swim time averages right on the ragged edge of 2:05 for 100 yards.
If you manage to get through that, then you have the privilege of jumping on your bicycle and riding 112 miles, with a cut-off time of somewhere around 10:30 from the start of the race. Oh, the clock doesn't stop after the swim, either.
Let's presume you make it out of the water by the slimmest of margins (sometimes the participants do not), you have to average a little under 14 miles per hour to make the bicycle cut-off. Attaboy.
Now it's time to put your running gear on and do a marathon. Once again, assuming you finish right before the cut-off, it's 6 hours and 30 minutes to travel, under your own power, 26.21875 miles, or 14 minutes & 48 seconds per mile; a rapid stroll...albeit on legs powered by long-depleted energy sources.
Now think about this; there are professionals who are doing this in less than nine hours, and strong amateurs doing it in less than ten. Lots of the finishers could care less about making it in ten; most want to just simply finish.
So, once you run the numbers in a brutally-analytical manner (a friend of mine has completed three Ironman events; we talked about this calculus one night over dinner), where is the challenge? Is it in trying to get through as quickly as possible? Is it in trying to get through it faster than the last time you did it? Or is it in trying to get through it, period? I believe much of it has to do with the mind; having to wrap your head around the concept of distance & of time. Being strong enough to continue forward, yet smart enough to know how fast (or how slow) you need to go in order to make it to the line. Being able to live in the immediate moment & compartmentalize the activity.
Perhaps Desi Arnaz was right: '...anyone who goes to (do this) needs to have their head examined.'

Friday, December 12, 2008

Can You Hear Me, Doctor Wu?

This morning's title has absolutely nothing to do with my intended rant. I came in this morning to the office, turned on Radio Margaritaville, & one of the first songs on was straight from the files of Steely Dan; Walter Becker & Donald Fagen...what were those guys thinking about when they wrote those tunes? I would like to think they were considering the poor schmucks who had to get up & occupy a cubicle for eight hours with little else but coffee to look forward to.
While I don't like to remain uninformed about what is going on in the world, the more I hear about the big business meltdown & our government's efforts to forestall what many C (blank) O's would probably classify as the big one, the less I want to hear. How is it that corporate leaders have the brass to go hat-in-hand to Congress for a government handout, but when push comes to shove they are unwilling to accept government oversight?
A friend of mine at the local coffee shop asked whether I would get her a new Camaro for her birthday/Christmas. I told her the gift would wait until GM declared bankruptcy, after which I would purchase her Camaro for pennies on the dollar. Actually, we might get her the Camaro the Johnny Cash way...one piece at a time. Starting with the easiest part - the key. That ought to drive her insane.
Swimming workouts have been a challenge as of late. My coach is willing to provide me workouts to focus on the specific endurance needs of triathlon swimming. However, there aren't enough lanes at the pool to segregate the endurance swimmers from masters' swim prep. Most of my masters' swimming lane-mates focus on events of (much) shorter-length, where raw speed is the coin of the realm. Or is that coin of the realm better defined as shorter duration of discomfort?
I caught some instructional requests from lane-mates: 'someone please teach that guy to flip-turn?' Guys, I'm a tri-geek. When am I going to flip-turn during the course of a 600-meter, 800-meter, mile, 1.2-mile or (gasp!) 2.4-mile swim? Before you counter with 'when are you going to open turn in a tri?' realize there are no black lines on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I'm going to have to sight every so often, and I'd rather not depend on the (atrocious) sighting skills of swimmers who are at my (atrocious!) ability level.
Besides, my best stroke when it comes to pool swimming is probably the breaststroke.
This year's running group Christmas party is Beach Casual. Love it. Perfect. The missus and I made a brief pilgrimage to the local surf shop to find (ideally) matching island print shirts. None in stock. Bummer. So, we decided on Plan B, a couple of matching Old Guys Rule shirts. The logo looked like a couple of beers we've had at one time or another...perfect. Probably toss a couple of collared short-sleeve flowered tops underneath for some dignity. Might (still) be a little too chilly for shorts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

In my professional (defined in this venue as for which I am paid a regular salary) line of work, we are regularly under the gun to prove our worth to our customer. In most cases, the question is fairly well rhetorical; it would cost our customer far beyond our pay & benefits to contract for an equally-qualified (foolish?) worker, or hire a replacement should we be made redundant. However, we are under the thinly-veiled threat of contract replacement, as well as a pay-for-performance system...which has the unintended consequences of scaring off the highly-qualified potential employees.
It doesn't mean the process of knowing how your customer feels about your work is coals to Newcastle...or what I like to call (when describing some days) a complete waste of make-up. However, the greatest challenge is making certain the customer has the ability to be honest about their opinion...with the hope they will continue to use your service in the future should you make what changes you feel are necessary. It doesn't take a doctoral degree in rocket science or sociology to tell a coach when their athletes are happy or unhappy with the program. If they're happy with the end-results of your training they'll stick around...if not, they'll go off to someone else. When (or if) a coach resorts to survey instruments, especially to ask the opinion of former athletes, it's much the same as if they were invited to drop an atomic weapon at the coach's front door. Merry freaking Christmas, 'Coach.' Once again, I borrow from my wife, who now is a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM, for those of you into acronyms), and her dictum: '...care, but try not to care too much.'
I swear, one of these days I'm going to retire and let her coach runners like me. :)A report on NPR's Morning Edition this morning mentioned research which proves non-primate animals have a sense of fairness, and react when things don't seem fair. When trained dogs responded to a command, saw another dog receive a treat, and received none of their own they initially questioned (hard look) the trainer's response. After a while they tried another behavior to get the attention (and the treat) of the trainer. As they realized there was no chance for treats to be had, they had to fight their instinct and look away to not gain hope of a treat. Eventually, the dogs refused to listen to the trainer's command.
My strange sense of schadenfreude comes every so often when I participate at a local race or encounter a former athlete from my training group. I like to see former athletes do well, regardless of whether I coach them or they resort to a book. I hate to see former athletes sustain overuse injuries, though...it's as though I could have done something to keep them on the right path and not on the injured list. The hardest encounter comes when I see them frustrated at their lack of progress. How do you say, 'well, I could help you with that issue if you wish,' without sounding like an arrogant jerk?
Again, I have to listen and repeat my wife's dictum: 'care, but not too much.'
At least not for the ones who have gone down the road.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lost In Translation

Last night was the local triathlon club's general membership meeting, holiday party, eat, drink, merriment-a-thon, or drunken bacchanal, depending on your particular point of view. Coming two days following the swim group's (post-workout) holiday breakfast & five days following the local running group's mid-week run/social...there were ample opportunities for "translation." Well, more of opportunities to look at the similarities, differences & idiosyncracies of three completely different groups, some of which have intersecting membership sets.
First, swimmers can discuss almost any topic at a conversational tone in a group of people, because they are more likely talking to the closest three or four persons around them. The next lane, or the next four chairs on either side of them might as well be an entire world away, because it is. I'm only concerned about someone in the next lane if their kicking gets as strange as mine is once fatigue sets in...or if they're doing the backstroke (of course, my lane-mates are more scared of me during the backstroke section of a workout than they are any other lane).
Runners are going to speak at the top of their voice, especially because everyone else is. That's usually a side-effect of alcohol, I realize; give a runner a couple (or a couple too many) beers & they feel the irrational desire to announce all sorts of embarrassing stuff to the entire world. Most of the time they are fortunate & nobody hears a thing...once again, the rest of the room is all at a near-bellow to their closest companions. The only time anything really scandalous is revealed is if someone with the lack of impulse control hears it & passes it along to their group of fellow curiosity compulsives...that's how mass communication (and unearned reputations) happens. The only other time is when something is blurted out as the volume wanes in all the other groups. Happens every once in a while, with humorous (if you're the hearer) or disastrous (if you're the speaker) consequences.
If you're a leader, forget having announcements at the meetings of either one of these two groups. The former group wants to save their oxygen; the latter group would prefer you not shout & utilize more than your fair share of the same.
The announcement portion of last night's triathlon group meeting was done at a good time; all of the meeting participants had enough time to consume at least one adult beverage. But we weren't three sheets to the wind, nor in a room where we couldn't hear each other converse. Pragmatic conversation. Of course, there was also good food at hand, so we wanted to get our fill before the main portion of the meeting; the white elephant gift exchange. Probably the most civil game of "dirty Santa" I've ever experienced.
I guess when half of the white elephant items are alcoholic & the other half are practical items for the average triathlete (yep, a pragmatic bunch!) civility will abound. That's probably the joy of dealing with most triathletes...the drafting rule from most event bike legs often carries over into the other aspects of their lives. It would be interesting to see how a triathlete drives to the mall or deals with the struggle for a parking space. Bet they take the space nearest the exit.